Reflections on Being a Family

“Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple.”-Luke 14:25

This is a reflective follow-up on Michelle’s observations in our last blog post.

We have just completed three years here: a short time for those who understand long-term missionary work and a long time for those accustomed to short-term experiences. For us, it is just a time to reflect. Michelle’s observation helped us realize that we have reached a significant phase in our time here. We had hoped that we could be a family to the children and her observations confirmed that our intentions are materializing. Family, however, is a complex concept. There are all kinds of families. There are hospitable families where outsiders are received with much warmth and openness. Yet, the separation still exists between friends and “real” family members. There are dysfunctional families where the bonds of affection are loose and fragile. Relationships are volatile and interchangeable in these families. There are the kind of close-knit families where no one else matters except the blood relationships. The list of diverse family dynamics can be almost infinite. However, we do not go into streets to introduce our brand of family. We are here with the conviction that it is God who is leading us to be a family to the children. Therefore, we have to consider what kind of family God wants us to be in the streets. Before we can get to this answer, we need to first heed the tough and difficult words of Jesus regarding our family ties.

No one in their right mind would say aloud the things Jesus proffered in the above verse from the gospel of Luke. These sayings are often allocated to the tough sayings of Jesus. Everyone recognizes them but their implications are rarely considered seriously in the church community, despite the fact that the first Christian community did honor them literally in the Acts of the Apostles. Families in the primitive church sold everything and came together to be one. Traditional family ties were given up in order to become part of a broader reality in the Kingdom of God. We could only imagine the criticisms that Peter and the other married apostles must have endured. Christianity must have been considered then as a religion that was disruptive to regular family dynamics. We think that it is different today but in reality, in some countries where Christianity is not the dominant religion such criticisms still exist. Many friends of mine who came from Taoist and Buddhist backgrounds said that their parents considered them as spiritual traitors when they accepted baptism into the Christian faith. Some parents even disowned them. However, most readers of the blog, including myself, live in a predominantly Christian environment. We don’t face such social and cultural pressures. Nevertheless, these powerful and disturbing words of Jesus still apply to us. They should still scandalize and challenge us to rethink our idea of family.

Our commonly held family values are not from the gospel but they are based on our cultural and societal customs. They are, in reality, just a sophisticated form of animalistic behavior. There is nothing remarkably new or excellent about them. On the other hand, the gospel brings a radically new and more excellent dimension to our understanding of a family. It challenges us to go beyond our animalistic instincts and become human. Jesus’ words do not destroy family values but restore a true and godly understanding of them. We define families along blood ties whereas Jesus presents God’s idea of a family. This is clearly seen in one particular incident in the gospel of Luke when Jesus was told that His mother and brothers were patiently waiting to speak to him;

But He answered and said to them, “My mother and My brothers are these who hear the word of God and do it.” -Luke 8:21

Family in the Kingdom of God is defined by our relationship to the Truth. We should not confuse this with doctrinal convictions. Hearing and doing the Truth is more than mere subscription to certain doctrines. It is a transformation of our attitudes. The first sign of this is reflected in our attitudes towards our neighbor.

Hearing and Doing the Truth does not mean that we have to abandon our families. At least, this won’t be necessary in our context. Jesus’ words are a challenge to us to evaluate and perhaps even abandon society’s restrictive concept of family in the Light of the gospel.

And no man puts new wine into old wineskins; else the new wine will burst the wineskins, and be spilled, and the wineskins shall be destroyed.-Luke 5:37

Ideally, our birth family is a training ground for us to learn how to love and accept others into our household. When our birth family becomes the be all and end all, then we fall into sin of idolatry. We need to discard the old in order to understand the value and beauty of the new concept of family that the gospel inaugurates. Discarding does not mean that we abandon them. It means that they should not keep us from accepting God’s richer and life-giving definition of family.
I want to bring this post back to the streets. God is teaching us to be a family. It is something new for all of us. A social worker once told me that he corrected a young teenage girl when she said that she considered him to be her father figure. He said that he will never be her father because he does not have the capability of accepting her into his household. I thought that it was tactless on his part to say these words to this young homeless girl. Nevertheless, he was being coherent with the world’s definition and standard of a family. However, by the grace of God, we are not social workers, not just us but all Christians. We have a higher calling . We are called to reconcile individuals back to the family of God. Social workers only deal with social problems. We are God’s children sent here to embrace those who do not know the true status of their existence as God’s children, as well.

I have been a son and a brother and Mary has been a daughter and sister. Now God has given us sons and daughters. Through the grace of God, we have become their father and mother. Many people who are living thousands of miles away from these children have adopted them through prayer as their grandchildren. Perhaps none of this would make sense to the world. It is a concept that is not common to them. They have to break away from their traditional ideas of what constitutes a family to understand this. Even then, it would still be impossible for anyone to do this until they have met the One who is the true Father of all. We have discovered our family in the streets and God has a family for you to discover as well. They may not be in the streets like ours but they are there somewhere waiting to be reconciled into God’s eternal family.

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5 thoughts on “Reflections on Being a Family

  1. Blessings to you as your discern your calling as family to the children of God you encounter on the streets of Sao Paolo.

  2. I suspect that Luke’s admonition to “hate” father & mother, etc., was not what we would make of that term today, but rather a command to let go of, and/or get away from that close family environment, and by shunning it be open to God’s family and His demands of us in that sphere. By the same token, the ages-old instruction we still repeat in our liturgy to “fear” God didn’t originally mean (nor should it now) quaking in terror of Him, but rather thinking in terms of awe, wonder and great respect for his power, might and almost incomprehensible love for even the lowest of us.

    As I’ve been reading your blogs and thinking about your teamwork with Mary I’ve been reminded of two of our patients (in a preventive medicine-oriented primary care medical practice) who were priests. I won’t mention their denomination, though it won’t be hard to guess. One was an older, hard-line doctrinarian who lived in very comfortable celibacy well above the standard in his low-income parish composed of mostly Polish mill workers. He had little sympathy with or understanding of the emotional/financial/spiritual problems many of his parishioners were suffering and offered them rather cold comfort and platitudes when he deigned to listen. The other priest was a feisty little Irishman who for twenty years did the hard and dangerous work of his church’s missionary arm in Africa. Upon returning to the US and rejoining his order of 80 or so priests he discovered that over half of them were alcoholics, and a substantial number were indulging in homosexual and occasional heterosexual affairs. A few were child molesters as well. He found it impossible to stay, so left his order (which then tried to deny his pension), joined and was later married in a local Episcopal church, and worked as a caretaker in a large homeless shelter in Boston.

    The contrast between these two clergymen couldn’t have been more stark – one was a “priest,” with an exalted and over-entitled opinion of himself and no genuine understanding of what his ordained role was meant to be – the other, to my mind a “minister” (a term I’ve always preferred) in the full sense of that word, walking in Jesus’ footsteps among the genuinely poor, afflicted and abandoned outcasts from their society. We loved and greatly respected that man – you and Mary as well, because you have also clearly chosen that difficult path, with its mixture of pain and sadness and occasional bursts of joy as one by one your fragile street children discover and enter into your growing family of love and caring.

    My late and cherished wife – also a Mary – about whose sudden and recent passing I think I previously wrote, was a warm and caring office nurse, and between us we gave over 30 years of in depth time, attention and love to several thousand good people – a far better off population than yours, to be sure, and mostly adults, but we always felt we were doing what Jesus would have wanted. If we were poorly reimbursed by an avaricious health insurance system, nevertheless we were richly rewarded in the friendships and gratitude of our patients, and in knowing that we were “walking the walk,” not just “talking the talk.” Knowing from this experience something of where you”re coming from, I continue to respect and admire your courage and humanity, and bless and support your work. A number of donations in memory of my Mary have been made to Holy Trinity, earmarked mostly for your mission, and I’m sure there will be more to come. Keep walking!!!

    With love,

    Hank Childs (MD)

    • Thank you, Hank, for your precious words. The gospel continues to challenge each of us to walk the walk. It may look difficult but it is truly the path of joy. The joy seems to eradicate the difficulties in many cases. Our prayers are with you, Hank. God bless.

  3. WOW! A totally new reality of how we think about family, but certainly within the scope of our diocesan leadership. We read a book one time which described how we play at being holy. Only God is holy! It is extremely difficult to be a Christian without giving it all up to rely solely on the Father’s providence. We have seen very few who live the life, including us, as Scripture informs us to live it. God forgive us and guide us to improve each day. We must remember our family is everyone, without exception, and loving each person as Jesus loves each of us, saved or unsaved. You, my friend, and your beautiful bride, in our opinion, are as close as it gets. God bless you and your ministry.

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